Aristotle defined voice as ‘a particular sound made by something with a soul; for nothing which does not have a soul has a voice’. Beyond Words encompasses human language outside words, the realm of the sounds of the mouth, controlled and automatic, which bring depth, meaning and confusion in equal measure to our communication as humans. Steven Connor takes in the phantasmal life of excitements, identifications and recoils associated with particular groups of vocal utterances – the guttural, the dental, the fricative and the sibilant – and reveals our beliefs, myths and responses to the growls, stutters, ums and ahs of everyday language and exchange.
From the moans, whimpers and sobs of human grief, to the playful linguistic twisting of nonsense, Beyond Words probes the fringes and limits of human language, and our definitions and notions of ‘voice’ and meaning, to challenge our basic assumptions about what it is to communicate and where meaning lies in language.
By engaging with the tics, utterances and vocal sounds usually marginalized, trivialized or ignored completely in phonetics and linguistics, Beyond Words presents the reader with a startling and fascinating new way to engage with language itself.
‘The functions and dysfunctions of vocal utterances are enjoyably treated here with full professional linguistic snap, crackle and pop by a soul-searching connoisseur of the myths, beliefs, literature, history and philosophy of spoken language.’ – The Times
‘Beyond Words is a high-wire performance by a writer with a prodigious feel for language, both in its popular, everyday uses, and in the more recondite corner of English literature, old and new.’ – TLS
Steven Connor is Grace 2 Professor of English at the University of Cambridge. He is also the author of A Philosophy of Sport (Reaktion, 2011), The Matter of Air: Science and the Art of the Ethereal (Reaktion, 2010), Fly (Reaktion, 2006), The Book of Skin (Reaktion, 2003) and Dumbstruck: A Cultural History of Ventriloquism (2000).